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Freddie Freeman Returns

July 5, 2017

Hugh Atkins

The Fourth of July saw the return of Freddie Freeman to the Atlanta Braves lineup. Freeman was sidelined on May 17 with a fractured wrist courtesy of a fastball from Aaron Loup of the Toronto Blue Jays. At the time of the injury, Freeman was hitting .341 and led the National League in home runs with 14; the Braves were 16-21 on the season.

Many Braves fans, myself included, felt the loss of Freeman doomed the Braves chances for even a mediocre season. But the Braves went 24-20 during Freeman’s absence and entered play on Independence Day one game under .500 (40-41) at the season’s halfway mark. The Braves got some unexpected assistance from the St. Louis Cardinals to help them bridge the gap until Freeman’s return. Three days after the Freeman injury, the Braves traded minor league infielder Juan Yepez to the Cardinals for first baseman, Matt Adams.

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The Cardinals were having trouble finding a spot in their lineup for Adams since he only plays first base and Matt Carpenter took over that position this year. In 39 games while Freeman was out of the lineup, Adams hit .285 with 12 home runs and 32 runs batted in. While Adams isn’t the only reason the Braves played better during Freeman’s absence, he certainly exceeded expectations and it is doubtful that the Braves would be within a game of .500 without him.

Adams performed so well while Freeman was sidelined that the prospect of dropping his bat from the lineup upon Freeman’s return could not have been something that manager Brian Snitker was looking forward to. But, as I mentioned earlier, since Adams only plays first base, it appeared that he was destined to become a pinch hitter or the designated hitter when the Braves were visiting American League venues. If only the Braves could work out a position change that would allow them to keep both Freeman and Adams in the lineup at the same time.

Lo and behold a position change presented itself. Well, actually Freeman presented a position change to the Braves. He notified management that he would be willing to move across the diamond to third base in order to find a permanent spot for Adams in the lineup. So Freeman began working with coaches Ron Washington and Terry Pendleton to reacquaint himself with the hot corner, a position he hadn’t played since high school.

In his two minor league rehab starts, Freeman played third base for the Gwinnett Braves and then notified the big club that he was ready to go. In his first at bat on July 4, Freeman singled to center field and flawlessly fielded the only ball hit to him at third base. Adams went 2-4, but the Braves still lost to the Houston Astros by a score of 16-4.

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Freddie Freeman added to his reputation as the consummate team player by volunteering to move to third base. He is an established star and, in addition to swinging a powerful bat, he also is one of the best-fielding first basemen in the game. While Adams is no Dick Stuart–a first baseman whose fielding was so erratic that it earned him the nickname, Dr. Strangeglove–it must be pointed out that he also is no J.T Snow (he of the six Gold Gloves). Rookie Johan Camargo was filling in nicely at third base after the injury to Adonis Garcia, swinging a strong bat and having a real impact defensively.

I hope the Braves are not panning for fool’s gold by trying to keep Adams’ bat in the lineup. No matter what, it was nice to see a player of Freeman’s caliber put his team first.

The Opposite of Freddie Freeman

On June 14 New York Mets second baseman, Neil Walker, suffered a hamstring injury while trying to beat out a bunt against the Chicago Cubs. Walker became the latest in a long line of Mets to hit the disabled list this season. David Wright hasn’t played at all this season and Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Yoenis Cespedes have spent significant time on the DL. Walker’s double play partner, Asdrubal Cabrera, injured his thumb the night before Walker landed on the disabled list.

With all of their injuries, manager Terry Collins did some creative shifting of personnel. Jose Reyes moved from third base to shortstop and Wilmer Flores landed at third base; first baseman, T.J. Rivera, shifted to second base and Lucas Duda became the fulltime first baseman. With this combo, the Mets promptly lost seven of eight games.

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When Cabrera was set to return from his stint on the disabled list, Collins informed him that he would be shifting from shortstop to second base. Cabrera responded by demanding a trade, but said he’d feel better about the shift if the Mets went ahead and picked up his option for 2018.

In Cabrera’s defense, I don’t see how playing Reyes at shortstop is a good option for the Mets. Why have three players out of position when they could limit it to one by leaving Cabrera at short and moving Reyes back to third? But that’s beside the point. It’s Cabrera’s job to play the position his manager tells him to play. Collins, as manager, decides which lineup provides the best opportunity for his team to win and he suffers the criticism if his decisions don’t work out.

Cabrera moved to second base and hit well, going 14-43 while the Mets won seven of their next 11 games. He improved his average from .244 at the time of his injury to .260. He even reevaluated his stance on the trade, saying he’s good with staying in New York from now on. Even though Cabrera has played well since moving to second base, he can’t just undemand to be traded and hope everyone forgets he wanted out. The damage is done; his reputation as a selfish player is too well established.

It will take a Herculean effort from both the Braves and the Mets for either of them to catch the Washington Nationals; heck, it will take a similar effort for either of them to secure the last Wild Card spot in the National League. But win, lose, or draw, Freddie Freeman volunteered to change positions to keep a potent bat in the lineup while Asdrubal Cabrera demanded a trade if he had to move from shortstop to second base.

Time will tell whether either of these moves really made sense, but one thing is not up for debate. Only one of these players put his team first and that player was not Asdrubal Cabrera.

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© T.C.G.

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